Monmouth University sophomore right-hander Pat Light, of Colts Neck, knows it may not necessarily be reflected by the stat sheet, but he is making progress in his second season with the Hawks after a brilliant high school career at Christian Brothers Academy.
He currently is 1-4 with a 4.24 earned run average in six starts for the Hawks, who are 13-12 overall and tied for first place in the Northeast Conference at 8-4. The bumpy start follows a freshman year in which he was greeted rudely by the college ranks, finishing 2-6 with a 6.12 ERA in 10 starts.
However, a peek beyond the numbers shows a 6-foot-5 righty who has pumped up his fastball to the point where it touches 96 miles per hour and sits around 92-93 m.p.h. He has struck out 27 in 34 innings and walked nine.
“I’m not happy about the current season I’m having, but I’m moving in the right direction if you don’t look at the stat sheet,’’ Light said. “The wins will come.’’
Losing is something that Light is certainly not accustomed to, considering he set a Shore Conference record by finishing 20-0 in his varsity career at CBA.
“The whole losing aspect, I have to deal with it,’’ Light said. “I have 10 losses now in my career (at Monmouth). I haven't had 10 losses in high school and middle school put together, so it's so different for me. Still there was only one loss this year where I felt like this team beat me. It’s been me beating myself, and I’m at the point where I know I should be beating these teams, so it’s just a matter of going and doing it.’’
As a freshman, Light had to play an important role from the outset because the Hawks had two pitchers, Freehold Township graduate Brett Brach and fellow starter Ryan Buch, selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Rather than easing Light into the college game with some relief appearances, he became an immediate starter to help fill the gap left by the departure of Buch and Brach. However, Light also said being a starter is exactly what he wanted because he had never been a reliever at CBA.
“With those guys being drafted, that probably pushed Pat to a spot he didn't need to be in as a freshman,’’ said Monmouth head coach Dean Ehehalt. “He got thrown in the fire immediately. He was never was able to establish a role.’’
With a brilliant high school resume and the fact that he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 28th round out of CBA before spurning them to go to Monmouth, Light entered with weighty expectations surrounding him as one of Monmouth’s most high-profile recruits. After his tough freshman season, he regained his confidence with a strong stint in the highly-competitive New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) over the summer.
Light was selected to the league’s all-star game and was rated as the league’s 18th-best prospect by Perfect Game USA after going 5-0 with a 2.36 ERA in 42 innings over 10 appearances. Perhaps more importantly, he picked up some habits from high-level Division I players like Stanford ace Mark Appel, a potential first-round draft pick, who were his NECBL teammates on the Newport Gulls.
“I was always a big long-toss guy in high school, but those guys took it to a whole new level,’’ Light said. “I was long-tossing the day after I would pitch and then two days after, just strengthening my arm. It helped me as I was pitching against guys who had just won the College Word Series with South Carolina, so to do well against them certainly helped my confidence.’’
Light realized from his freshman season that throwing 92 or 93 miles per hour was not going to be enough because of the talent level of opposing hitters, so he worked hard on his arm strength to get his fastball to the point where he could explode it by hitters at 95-96 m.p.h. to get outs.
That’s what has made the start to this season so frustrating, especially because he has not been getting knocked around the park. He has only given up four extra-base hits all season. He also is usually facing the other team’s top pitcher, so the margin for error is slim.
“His numbers are definitely not indicative of how well he's pitched,’’ Ehehalt said. “He takes ownership in everything he does, and he's trying to get better every day, but he also has been victimized by some really low run support. If he had better run support, his record could be reversed.’’
Even with his struggles early in his career, Light has no regrets about deciding not to sign with the Twins out of high school. Being at Monmouth has allowed him to face adversity and still get a chance to learn and improve, whereas if he was a 28th-round draft pick, he may not have gotten as much time to adjust to the pro game before the organization moved on to give another draftee a shot.
“If I go (to Minnesota’s minor-league system) and have the freshman year I had here, I'm working in some lumberyard not doing anything right now,’’ Light joked.
At the rate he is going, if he continues to progress and refine his secondary offerings while maintaining a mid-to-high-90s fastball, Light has a chance to be selected much higher than the 28th round when he becomes draft-eligible after next season. For now, he is just looking for the statistics to reflect the progress he feels he has made.
“I’m pitching well, and now I need to get to that next point where I’m pitching well and winning,’’ he said.
“Pat is very confident,’’ Ehehalt said. “He’s throwing well enough to be 4-1, but it’s just not happening for him right now. Every game, he’s getting better.’’